Universal Design for Learning


One of the biggest challenges training and development professionals face is how to address the unique learning styles of each of the learners who will take their course. Educational psychologists have long held the belief that not every person learns the same way. Add to this the need to be accessible for learners who have disabilities, such as vision or hearing impairments. Enter Universal Design for Learning, a set of principles from the field of architecture adapted for education.

Universal Design in Architecture

Universal Design is a system of principles developed in the field of architecture to describe the concept of designing products and buildings in a way that are accessible by anyone regardless of their age, disabilities, or social-economic status. The seven principles are:

  • Equitable use means that the design is useable by a diverse population.
  • Flexibility of use incorporates a wide-range of individual abilities and preferences.
  • Simple and intuitive design is easy to understand regardless of a user’s language, status, age, or experience.
  • Perceptible information means that the design communicates information to the user effectively regardless of the ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for error means that the design is free of hazards or accidental penalties for unintended actions.
  • Low physical effort designs can be used with minimal fatigue from the user’s perspective.
  • Size and space for approach is sufficient regardless of a user’s posture, mobility, body side or reach.

These design concepts were applied to educational products and environments such as textbooks, software, laboratories, and classrooms to accommodate as many learning styles and students with disabilities as possible. The application of these principles to educational products and settings is called Universal Design for Learning. Universal Design for Learning has become exceptionally useful in the online learning field, as more learners are accessing training and development through online learning platforms.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning is a framework that addresses the issues of poorly designed curricula that unintentionally marginalizes learners, especially those with disabilities or exceptionalities. Curricula design that is guided by the principles of Universal Design is from the outset flexible enough to meet the needs of a majority of learners.

The seven principles of Universal Design were adapted into three main principles for Universal Design for Learning and they are:

  • Information should be represented in multiple ways. That means that if there are audio elements in a course that are critical to learning, then they should also be represented in a transcript. The same goes for written elements. Written elements should also be represented in another format such as audio or illustrations. Not all learners will have a disability that prevents them from accessing information in an auditory or visual format, however, delivering the information in two ways can enhance understanding for all learners.
  • Learners should be able to express what they have learned in multiple ways. Not all learners are able to express themselves in a written or verbal format. Some learners may have a distinct preference for one or the other based on their talents. Courses should be optimized to allow for multiple modes of expression.
  • Engagement is enhanced when learners feel that they have autonomy in a course. Instructional designers and trainers should give learners the opportunity to make individual choices, collaborate with others, self-assess and reflect with regard to the material.

Once an instructional designer or trainer has created a course guided by the principles of Universal Design for Learning, they should ensure that their online learning platform also meets these same guidelines. Not all learning management systems are created equal. It is important to make sure that the learning management system that is hosting the content is also easily accessible by all learners.

Mindflash is a learning management system that offers integrated multimedia authoring tools that will allow instructional designers and trainers to create universally accessible content. Sign up for a free trial of Mindflash to see how you can enhance your learners training experiences.

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